Front Gardens

I have been walking round Fulham quite a lot lately and I’ve realised that most front gardens don’t contain anything other than a couple of dustbins. The next most common garden style seems to be a single pot containing a dead or dying plant, particularly olive trees. This seems sad when one considers how many of these houses probably have amazing back gardens. Or perhaps they don’t. I don’t like to think of it but perhaps most of the houses in Fulham are simply surrounded by neat but dull paving or slabs of cracked concrete. A brief look in the estate agents’ windows shows that most back gardens do, at least, have a few functioning pots but these may simply be there to help the sale. Everyone knows that, along with de-cluttering and baking bread, you should tidy your garden if you want to appeal to would-be buyers.

I’m not even putting pictures here; it’s too gloomy.

I have always described my house to first-time visitors as ‘the one with all the plants’. This has been true but, until this year, they have mostly been largish shrubs and perennial thugs: Japanese anemones, hardy geraniums, evening primroses, escallonia and winter Jasmine. More delicate plants came, and often went. Watering was a pain and consequently the plants at the front had to survive on less water and less food, less often than their counterparts in the back garden. Those in pots often objected.

This year all that changed with the arrival of The Tap. I have sung its praises before but it’s only now that I am realising the full potential for the front garden. I have just given the garden (front and back) its autumn tidy. Most annuals that haven’t done well so far won’t do anything now and the pots need to be made ready for next spring with bulbs and wallflowers. Doing it I realised how well everything in the front garden has done and, perhaps more importantly, that I can now plant almost anything I like there. This is useful as it faces west and has (by my standards) a largish flower bed which is not used to its best at the moment. There was a hebe which overreached itself and had to be cut down (cuttings are growing well in pots so, in theory, I could repeat the cycle). At present the bed contains a large pink, elderly but brilliant rose at one end, an evening primrose and an enthusiastic pink hardy geranium which has taken over the space and flowered all summer but could happily breathe in a bit.

I’ve moved some pots from the back and have repotted a Chinese foxglove and some English ones into nicer (new) pots and put them by the front door.  I shall also plant more roses: a climber by the door and another shrub in the flower bed. The tap has meant that I’ve gained about a third more practical planting space.

The back garden gives me seclusion but the front provides a beautiful, ever-changing screen between me and the outside world. The table in the bay window is my default place for doing most things and it now looks onto a wonderful plant-filled world. In particular a growing (in both senses) collection of grasses. All cats eat grass occasionally – ideally plain grass. Mine favours ornamental cultivars and last year she kept a previously-flourishing Imperator rubra down to a neat 1 ½ inches. In spring I divided it into two pots and put them onto the front window sill where they grew to a much happier 18 or so inches and glowed brilliantly when the sun shone on them. A fescue (Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’) sits beside them like a blue hedgehog and screening the next part of the bay is a wafty Pennisetum ‘Fireworks’ and a delightfully stripey Miscanthus ‘Zebrinus’. I’ve just planted camassias (C. quamash) which I hope will complete the screen next summer. For years I never understood why people liked grasses, now I am completely seduced by their gentle charms.

Working in the front garden is pleasantly sociable. People smile as they walk past and often say how much they enjoy walking past my house. Yesterday a teenage boy stopped. I assumed he was going to ask directions or the time but no, he simply said how much he liked my garden. I could not have been more pleased. For a short amount of a builder’s time and a few pounds my garden is transformed. Before we tell everyone not to pave over their front gardens we should, perhaps, suggest that they install a tap.


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